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Labor's Edge: Views from the California Labor Movement

Housekeepers Across North America Speak Out Against Abuses at Work

by Annemarie Strassel, UNITE HERE

When two housekeepers in New York came forward to report assault on the job, taking on some of the most powerful men in the world, they exposed some of the grittier and often hidden aspects of hotel work--the work of scrubbing toilets, changing sheets, and encountering guests alone behind closed doors. Hotel housekeepers--overwhelmingly women, immigrants, and people of color--are the invisible backbone of the hotel industry. While incidents of sexual assault are uncommon, the women who work as housekeepers routinely face a broader spectrum of dangers at work, from sexual harassment to debilitating injuries from years of making beds and scrubbing floors.

Now, housekeepers from across North America are breaking the silence on abuses they face at work.

On the day of Dominique Strauss-Kahn's arraignment, uniformed New York housekeepers showed up in droves to show their solidarity with their sister union member at the Sofitel Hotel. On June 2, hotel housekeepers in Toronto, Chicago, San Antonio, Phoenix, Sacramento, and Los Angeles held coordinated speak-outs to end the silence on the range of abuses they experience on the job. The housekeepers courageously shared their stories of sexual harassment, workplace injuries, and debilitating workloads, and called on the hotel industry to listen to their concerns and end the abuses.

Making Housekeeping Work Safer

Housekeepers have come forward with a number of common-sense preventative measures to make their work safer, such as increased security staff, working in teams, and replacing the traditional dress uniform with pants and a tunic. In addition, the union fully supports two pieces of legislation recently introduced in New York that would 1) provide panic buttons to employees to use in case of emergency 2) require hotel and motel owners and operators to provide comprehensive sexual harassment awareness training.

Standing together, housekeepers are also demonstrating that a union is a powerful tool for workers when harassment and other hazards occur. In New York and elsewhere, many safety measures are already in place for union hotel workers, who know they can report incidents to their superiors without the fear of reprisal.

Sexual assault is one of a range of hazards that housekeepers experience. The rate of injury among hotel workers is 25 percent higher than among service workers overall. Among hotel workers, housekeepers have the highest rate of injury—50 percent higher than hotel workers overall.

For more information on safety concerns that housekeepers face, visit www.hotelworkersrising.org/injuries/

Posted on 06/14/2011Permalink

More posts by Annemarie Strassel

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